Three System Comparison

A Comparison of Three Systems

Dispensationalism - Covenant Theology - New Covenant Theology

by Donald Hochner


There are three main systems of interpreting Scriptures that are the most prevalant in the Christian Church today: Dispensationalism, Covenant Theology and New Covenant Theology. The most popular today by far is Dispensationalism. However, "popular" does not necessarely mean "Biblically correct"; but just what it says: "popular".
The other two systems have been around much longer than Dispensationalism, and offer a better view of Scriptures than does Dispensationalism, with it's so-called "literalizing" hermeneutics. The author of this comparison wish to state his preference for New Covenant Theology, as being a more balanced system for interpreting Scriptures, and as being more in line with the Historical Baptist Faith.
In Fact, one could say that New Covenant Theology has been a distinctive of the Baptist faith since the Reformation of the 16th century. Many Baptists today consider themselves Reformed, in the sense that they view the New Covenant as the promised "time of reformation" that God had predicted in the Scriptures (Heb 9:10), and as the norm for Christian living, rather than the view that OT Law, Ceremonial-Civil-Sacrificial Law being excepted, is somehow still in effect for Christians today.
Although this author realize that no system has all the correct answers, I feel none-the-less, that New Covenant Theology is closer than the other two systems, especially when considering the fact that Dispensationalism, despite it's popularity, has a tendency when carried to it's logical conclusion, to alter the gospel. This is a most dangerous flaw in this system, and as such this author reject it.
Below are items that have been gathered to show, in very brief form, the main differences between the three systems. Hereafter, the systems will be known as [DISP] for Dispensationalism, [CT] for Covenant Theology and [NCT] for New Covenant Theology. This is by no means an in-depth comparison, but a simple outline of the main differences for information purposes only. Note that the author do not necessarely agree with everything that New Covenant Theology teaches, but that on the whole I am favorable to it's principal tenets.
[NCT] believes that [CT] and [DISP] both have part of the truth, but that they go to the extreme of either separating the OT and NT so much, as with [DISP], that there is almost no relation between the two. As John J. Reisinger so well put it "Dispensationalism separates the OT and NT so effectively, that never the twain shall meet." And [NCT] sees [CT] going to the other extreme of joining the OT and the NT so closely, that there is almost no discernable difference between the two. They believe that they have found the middle road, and we would "basically" agree with that assertion, without being absolutely bound by it, which means we don't necessarely agree with everything that [NCT] says.

  • [DISP] May be Arminian or modified Calvinist. Almost never five-point Calvinist.
  • [CT] Always Calvinist. Usually five-point Calvinist.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] Stresses 'literal' interpretation of the Bible.
  • [CT] Accepts both literal and figurative (spiritual) interpretation of the Bible.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] Usually does not accept the idea of the 'Analogy of Faith.'
  • [CT] Almost always accept the idea of the 'Analogy of Faith.'
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] 'Israel' always means only the literal, physical descendants of Jacob.
  • [CT] 'Israel' may mean either physical descendants of Jacob, or spiritual Israel, depending on context.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] 'Israel of God' in Gal. 6:16 means physical Israel alone.
  • [CT] 'Israel of God' in Gal. 6:16 means spiritual Israel, parallel to Gal. 3:29; Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6; Phil. 3:3.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] God has 2 peoples with 2 separate destinies: Israel (earthly) and the Church (heavenly).
  • [CT] God always had only one people , the Church gradually developed through the ages, in accordance with an Covenant worked out in etrnity past between the "Three Persons of the Godhead."
  • [NCT] In OT, believers are called simply "the elect of Israel", not the Church. NCT doesn't recognize a Church in the OT, such as in the NT. In Matt 16:18, Jesus said that will build His Church. There is but one people of God of whom natural Israel was the typical foreshadowing. So, the Church is the "New Israel."

  • [DISP] The Church was born at Pentecost.
  • [CT] The Church* began in the OT (Acts 7:38) and reached fulfillment in the NT.
  • *There is an unfortunate tendancy to translated the word "ecclesia" with the word church, when it can very well be translated "assembly", which would make more sense in the OT version of it. Since Jesus said that He would build His church, then it stands to reason that it wasn't yet built. Remember that Christ is the Head of the body, which is the church (assembly). No similar teaching exists in the OT.
  • [NCT] Same as Dispensationalism.

  • [DISP] The Church was not prophesied as such in the OT but was a "mystery", hidden until the NT.
  • [CT] There are many OT prophecies of the NT Church.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] All OT prophecies for 'Israel' are for the physical nation of Israel, not the Church.
  • [CT] Some OT prophecies are for national Israel, others for spiritual Israel.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] God's main purpose in history is national physical Israel.
  • [CT] God's main purpose* in history is Christ and secondarily the Church.
    *God's main purpose is His own glory, Christ included because He is the glory of God, and then the church.
  • [NCT] Same as Covenant Theology with one exception. NCT sees the saints of the OT as being added to the church after it's built. But NCT says that the Bible doesn't call the OT saints "the church".

  • [DISP] The Church is a parenthesis in God's program for the ages.
  • [CT] The Church is the culmination of God's saving purpose for the ages.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] The main heir to Abraham's covenant was Isaac and literal Israel.
  • [C.T.] The main heir to Abraham's covenant was Christ, the Seed, and spiritual Israel which is "in Christ".
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] There was no eternal Covenant of Redemption within the Trinity, to effect election.
  • *We think some of the old Dispensationalists did believe in a Covenant of Redemption within the Trinity, but we are not sure and I don't know about the new modified Dispensationalists.
  • [CT] The eternal Covenant of Redemption was within the Trinity to effect election.
  • [NCT] Same as Dispensationalism but there was an eternal Decree or Purpose of Redemption within the Trinity to effect election.

  • [DISP] Most believe there was no Covenant of Works with Adam in the Garden of Eden.
  • [CT] God made a conditional Covenant of Works with Adam as representative for all his posterity.
  • [NCT] Same as Dispensationalism. But agree with CT on Adam as representative for all his posterity.

  • [DISP] Most believe there was no Covenant of Grace concerning Adam.
  • [CT] God made a Covenant of Grace with Christ and His people, including Adam.
  • [NCT] Does not believe in a "Covenant of Grace", as the term is not found anywhere in Scriptures. NCT believes that only when the Bible stipulates that a Covenant has been "cut" between God and man, is there a Biblical reason for believing that one has been made. This is not to say that God isn't gracious to man in "cutting" a covenant with him; but that the term itself is never found in Scriptures, and thus should not be used, especially when describing the Mosaic Covenant, which was a law covenant.

  • [DISP] Israel was rash to accept the Covenant at Mt. Sinai.
  • [CT] Israel was right to accept the Covenant at Mt. Sinai.
  • [NCT] NCT say that Israel was so frightened* that they would have accepted anything.
  • *I don't know if I would agree with that, and this may be a caricature on my part, as I'm not 100% sure about this. (DH) 
    [DISP] The 'New Covenant' of Jer. 31:31-34 is only for literal Israel and is not the New Covenant of Luke 22:20; although there is some disgreement among Dispensationalists about this.
  • [CT] The 'New Covenant' of Jer. 31 is the same as in Luke 22:20; both are for spiritual Israel according to Heb. 8.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] God's program in history is mainly through separate dispensations.
  • [CT] God's program is history is mainly through related covenants, but all those covenants were derived from the eternal covenant that the Trinity made in eternity.
  • [NCT] God's program in history is through related covenants, but culminating in the new covenant that eliminates the others because they were all realized in Christ.

  • [DISP] Some have said that OT sinners were saved* by works.
  • *This is one of the areas where we believe that Dispensationalism, when carried to it's logical conclusion, alters the gospel of Christ, and so is a dangerous departure from authentic Biblical Christianity.
  • [CT] No man has ever been saved by works, but only by grace. (Eph 2:8-10)
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] Most teach that men in the OT were saved by faith in a revelation peculiar to their Dispensation, but this did not include their faith in the Messiah as their sin-bearer.
  • [CT] All men who have ever been saved have been saved by faith in Christ as their sin-bearer, which has been progressively revealed in every age.
  • [NCT] Same as CT, although *some* would say that in the OT many would not have known about the sin-bearing part, just that they were sinners that needed the grace of God to be forgiven, and that they waited for the promise of God for He would crush the head of the serpent.

  • [DISP] The OT sacrifices were not recognized as the Gospel or types of the Messiah as sin-bearer, but only seen as such in retrospect.
  • [CT] OT believers believed in the Gospel of Messiah as sin-bearer mainly by the sacrifices as types and prophecies.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] The Holy Spirit indwells only believers in the Dispensation of Grace, not OT and not after the "Secret Rapture."
  • [CT] The Holy Spirit has indwelt believers in all ages, especially in the present NT era, and will not be withdrawn.
  • [NCT] They believe that the indwelling wasn't the same as in the Church time. In Joh. 13:16-18, Jesus said that He would send the comforter that He may "abide" (live) with them forever. If the Holy Spirit was already "abiding" with them, as with the Church after Pentacost, then that promise means nothing.

  • [DISP] Jesus made an offer of the literal Kingdom to Israel; since Israel rejected it, it is postponed*.
  • *The postponement theory has raised the question: "What would have happened if Israel had accepted the Kingdom offer?" This is a valid question, since it puts God's sincerity into question. This is another area where Dispenastionalism is shown to be a dangerous departure from the gospel. Here is a quote from "Dispensationalism: A Return to Biblical Christianity or Pseudo-Christian Cult", by John H. Gerstner.


    Dispensationalism believes that the purpose of the first advent of Jesus Christ was to offer an earthly Kingdom to the Jews. This Kingdom would reinstate the Old Testament legal system and it's expansion to the entire world under the Messiah. When the Jews rejected Jesus Christ and His Kingdom offer, plan B went into effect and Christ went to the cross to initiate the dispensation of Grace and the "mystery church". Had Israel received her King there would have been no cross - and no Gospel!
    When Jesus came, He made a bona fide offer of the Kingdom and power to the people of Israel. (Quoted from: D.G. Barnhouse, He Came Unto His Own (New York: Revell, 1933), p.17)
    What then, if the Jews had done their duty and accepted this offer, of the salvation of mankind? What of the cross - 'without shedding of blood there is no remission'? What of the prophecies pointing to the cross? How could Christ offer a Kingdom that He could not permit to be established lest there be no salvation of man by His shed Blood? Dispensationalists attempt to absolve themselves from the concept of making God a liar by claiming He knew no one would call His bluff.
    He knew before He came that they would refuse it - knew from all eternity; hence, there are prophets which speak of His coming to die for us. ( Ibid.)
    Still, the problem stands. Even if Christ made an earthly Kingdom offer knowing that the Jews would refuse, the offer could not have been redeemed. An offer that is impossible to honor is not a sincere offer but a fraud. Our God makes no insincere offers. Besides, if Christ came to establish an earthly Kingdom for the Jews surely He had opportunity, and the support of the masses -
    Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone. -John 6:15
    No, Christ came at the set time to die on the cross, to redeem fallen mankind. All true sons of Abraham recognized Him. It is at the Ascension that He received His Kingdom, and He is seated now on His Throne!
    "Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come." -Eph 1:15-


  • [CT] Jesus made only an offer of the Spiritual Kingdom, which was rejected by literal Israel but has gradually been accepted by spiritual Israel.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] OT believers were not 'in Christ,' nor part of the Body or Bride of Christ.
  • [CT] Believers in all ages are all 'in Christ' and part of the Body and Bride of Christ.
  • [NCT] Same as CT, but realized in the NT.

  • [DISP] The OT Law has been abolished. For the Church, but not Israel, who will be under that Law when the Church is taken away, and God returns to His original people... Physical Israel.
  • [CT] The Law has 3 uses: to restrain sin in society, to lead to Christ, and to instruct Christians in godliness. The cereminial laws have been abolished; the civil laws have been abolished except for their general equity; the moral laws continue.
  • [NCT] Same as Dispensationalism, without believing that physical Israel has a future. NCT says that only the laws of the NT apply to the Christian. The OT Law is there to instruct us in the way God dealt with His people in the OT. Christ is affirmed as being "The New Law-Giver", as opposed to Moses who was "The Old Law-Giver".

  • [DISP] OT laws are no longer in effect unless repeated in the NT.
  • [CT] OT laws are still in effect unless abrogated in the NT.
  • [NCT] Same as Dispensationalism.

  • [DISP] Teaches that the Millennium is the Kingdom of God. They are always Premil, usually Pre-tribulation.
  • [CT] The Church is the Kingdom of God. They are usually Amil or Postmil; although a few are Premil or Preterist.
  • [NCT] Same as CT, but the Church is an NT creation.

  • [DISP] The OT animal sacrifices will be restored in the Millennium, as a memorial only.
  • [CT] The OT sacrifices were fulfilled and forever abolished in Christ.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] The Millennium will fulfill the Covenant made with Abraham. Israel as a nation has a future.
  • [CT] Christ fulfilled the Covenant to Abraham. Some believe in a future for literal Israel, most don't.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] David or Jesus will sit on the Millennial throne in Jerusalem.
  • [CT] Christ alone sits on the throne in heaven. Saints rule under Him in Spirit.
  • [NCT] Same as CT.

  • [DISP] Most do not embrace infant baptism. Usually believer's baptism is the norm, although those Dispensationalists that are Presbyterian are paedobaptists.
  • [CT] Most embrace infant baptism, but the Baptist among them don't.
  • [NCT] Does not embrace infant baptism, only believer's baptism.



NOTE: "A Comparison of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology" was mostly written by Curt Daniel in "History and Theology of Calvinism." The New Covenant Theology items were mostly written by G. Richard Gaudreau. This short work was edited by Donald Hochner who had the idea for publishing this comparison, and did most of the work in asembling the data in an ordered form; so the credit for this brief comparison rightfully belongs to him. Donald Hochner is the minister of a Deaf Reformed Preterist Church in California. May God bless his work and the congregation there. (G.R.G.)

Resource: http://www.angelfire.com/ca/DeafPreterist/compare.html